Friday, August 5th was our very first time setting up a vendor booth to talk about Art for Redemption's mission to offer an industry-standard wage for incarcerated artists and of course, showcase to the public the amazing art pieces created from behind the bars.
After weeks of planning, we were ecstatic to see how the - mostly - DIY art display we created looked so great. Our committed small team turned abandoned door frames into the perfect A-shaped art board ever (stapling old promotional banner inside the frame and pining the artworks with push pins secured with a piece of cork on the other side!).
Corkboard, re-used screen door as an art panel, hangers and home-made shelves — we created an outstanding booth to best showcase the artworks. Our team has carefully protected each art piece in a transparent sleeve, fixed the pastel drawings with coating, framed the larger pieces and set the bigger canvas onto easels. So these artworks can be in the spotlight as they deserve.
As we are finishing to set up, the crowd starts rolling in, and with it — the interest. The stunning art pieces stopped many of the walkers and once the artist & the mission behind the art is revealed, the interest grows and the conversation starts. There is no better way to inform about the criminal justice functioning than with the raw talent exposed in bright light. Prison art pieces, made with ingenuity and limited materials, sat with no doubt on the same throne as the pieces displayed in other galleries on Santa Fe Drive.
Many were amazed at the fact that these were indeed original artworks, made within prison walls. Some mistook the highly realistic pieces for photography, others thought those were prints. No. The are original, 100% prison artworks.
Our volunteers that night, Raphie, Erica (our amazing intern), and Ryan Austin Lee (our extremely talented artist ambassador) were busy bees handing out flyers, talking about their own experiences, and explaining how this was much bigger than an 8” x 11” creation. Art for Redemption’s marketplace, like an Etsy for incarcerated people, tackles the lack of rehabilitation perspective within the current criminal justice system by enabling them to sell their art for an industry-standard wage. Prison labor and $0,52 cents an hour are never going to be enough to keep the connexion with their families (as an example, Raphie used to spend about $250 per month to talk to her husband about 25min per day). Prison wages are never going to be enough to save up in preparation for an upcoming release, leading the released individuals with no financial resources and overly disproportionate obstacles in terms of housing or employment. Prison wages and the strictly punitive mindset are never going to make our communities safer, but rather keep feeding the generational trauma of mass incarceration. Giving the opportunity for artists behind bars to sell their art brings them confidence & a re-found self-esteem, but also gives them a real chance at that second chance.
But the star of the show was probably our print-on-demand custom T-Shirts & Hoodies. In collaboration with incarcerated artists, our graphic designer Raphie came up with a technical process to turn those paper art pieces into the most unique design to ever be printed on clothing! You will not find these anywhere else, we promise you. And you don't just get an awesome T-Shirt: you participate in changing the prison system one hoodie at a time and get to voice, or should I say wear, your disapproval of the use of mass incarceration in the US.